Eye of the Orb

Picking the "ever growing pulsating brain" of Alex Paterson, don of ambient

Several London dance clubs can lay claim to the title "England [and therefore the world]'s First Underground House Music Club." But only one--a South London spot called Heaven--has clear bragging rights to "England [and therefore the world]'s First Chill-Out Room." It also can lay claim to helping bring about the ambient house of Alex Paterson, founding member of Orb, which is scheduled to hit the Valley this week.

It was 1989, and Heaven's owner, Paul Oakenfold, flashed on the idea of providing overheated dancers a separate space to relax and come down off MDMA trips during the club's weekly acid-house club night. He hired then London DJ Alex Paterson to provide atmosphere. Paterson, an A&R man for Brian Eno's label EG and part-time roadie for the gothic industrial band Killing Joke, was then pioneering a new form of beatless, aural-collage music, similar on the surface to New Age relaxation tapes but with far more intricate and intelligent structures. Thus, Heaven's chill-out zone was the delivery room for ambient house, and Paterson was the wizard behind the curtain.

Eight years later, with electronica breaking open the pop landscape like an earthquake fissure, Paterson is on tour in support of his ambient group Orb's seventh album, Orblivion.

Orb has incrementally defined and then expanded the boundaries of ambient house since its landmark 1989 album A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From the Center of the Ultraworld. Despite that pretentious mouthful of a title, Brain is a gorgeous piece of graffiti where jet noises, church bells, choral parts and myriad other samples play like seals in and over waves of synthesizer. One memorable review labeled the album "virtual drugs."

Orb launched its first U.S. tour in Phoenix with a show at Silver Dollar Club. Now Paterson and his Orb accomplice Andy Hughes, who replaced Kris "Thrash" Weston in 1995 after a nasty split, are scheduled to return to the Valley Wednesday, April 30. New Times spoke with Paterson recently about his Phoenix debut, the rummy rave scene in Puerto Rico, and why Americans are not very good with their feet.

New Times: What do you remember about your first U.S. show, at Silver Dollar?

Alex Paterson: Just that it was quite weird. It was in November of 1991. No, it must have been October of 1991--that's when Halloween is, right?--because everyone was dressed up in all manner of elaborate costumes. And we had this Blues Brothers sort of thing where there was wire mesh all across the front of the stage, except instead of protecting us from country-music fans throwing beer bottles--which might have been interesting, really, as long as we were protected--it was the end of a barricade to separate the 21s from the under-21s. It sort of ran the length of the club and wound up in this big wall in front of us. And so, from the stage, you couldn't really make head nor tail of what the fuck was going on out there, except there were all these people dressed up. Oh--I do remember there were all these lovely cheerleader girls running about. That's what sticks out in my mind, anyway. Wire mesh and cheerleaders. Not a bad combination, really, when you think of the possibilities.

NT: On U.F.Orb, you sort of tacitly expressed a fascination with the idea of UFOs and alien visitation. The Southwest is ground zero for sightings and abductions. Do you really believe the aliens are coming?

AP: Well, I certainly hope they are. And I think they may well be. All this talk has been around a while, hasn't it, and it doesn't seem to be going away. It's just getting stranger and more frequent. People may laugh at that, but I'm sure the idea that the Earth was round seemed just as ridiculous to people at the time. "Oh, the Earth isn't flat, hey? And I suppose little gray men are coming to visit as well." At the very least, I like the idea, because I think there's a little alien in all of us, trying to get out.

Andy Hughes, in the background: I think yours is just stuck in your head, Alex.

AP: No, Andy, it's in my stomach. Didn't you see the cinema?
NT: You recently played in Puerto Rico. What's the scene like there?
AP: Well, I didn't perform as the Orb. I just played records. I played this little club by the sea, and the scene there is really grinding, you know. It's heat-oriented, it's about a tropical, sexy groove, and sexy men and sexy women, and just sex, sex, sex. Grinding. So I wound up playing a lot of hip-hop and slowed-down jungle. That's what they're into in Puerto Rico. That and rum. There's a huge Bacardi distillery there. I didn't know Puerto Rico was part of America until I got there and a couple of locals who took me around told me it's an American commonwealth. They didn't seem to care for that at all. I'd say the natives are getting resentful. Didn't seem to care much for America or Americans.

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